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East Herts leader defends Green Belt sacrifice for Stortford

East Herts Council leader Linda Haysey
East Herts Council leader Linda Haysey

The leader of East Herts Council, Cllr Linda Haysey, is in no doubt how much is at stake as her administration's district plan goes under the microscope.

She said: “If we do not get this plan through, no green piece of land in East Herts is safe.”

Her clear aim is control of the district’s destiny in the face of voracious developers and although it is clear fine tuning of the number of new homes required will be necessary, she is confident her team has come up with a robust sustainable strategy, capable of satisfying inspector Christine Thorby.

Her service manager for planning policy, Claire Sime, has been leading the preparation and said some adjustment had been anticipated and resilience had been built into East Herts’ modelling to accommodate more than 18,000 new homes, very close to the 836 a year suggested by the latest data. She said: “Our numbers are now coming out so that we can deliver the objectively assessed need.”

But the price of securing a framework for the future of the whole district will be sacrificing some Green Belt to the builders, with Bishop’s Stortford making a substantial contribution.

Cllr Haysey said the decision to remove protection was never easy but argued: “One third of the district is still Green Belt – just six per cent is to be taken out.”

At least 4,142 new homes are planned in Bishop’s Stortford as part of the plan and she expected the town’s population to grow from around 42,000 to 50,000 over the next five to ten years and said valuable lessons were already being learned about the critical need for infrastructure planning alongside residential construction.

Residents have been loudly voicing their concerns about highways disruption as the Stortford Fields and St Michael’s Hurst estates take shape to the north and Cllr Haysey said she understood their fears that a further new estate to the south, off Whittington Way – currently slated for 750 homes plus 150 at London Road – would put too much pressure on an already stressed transport network.

She said the chance to start planning there from scratch would allow more emphasis on sustainable ways of getting around.

“The question is how can we help people living in Bishop’s Stortford South get into the town on a bicycle.

“What you need to do is make sure those pieces of green transport infrastructure are right there in the beginning so you get used to sharing a car or riding a bike.”

She said removing just 10 per cent of vehicles from the roads by such simple measures could make a substantial difference to congestion in the town.

“We are not saying everyone has to get out of their cars, but to help people look at alternative ways.

“It’s not just about creating capacity on roads.”

She pledged substantial investment in the town in tandem with expansion, starting with £23m to redevelop leisure facilities at Grange Paddocks.

Beyond 2033, the term of the current plan, she was also clear that local authorities would have to “think outside the box” to house future generations. She believed adding further bolt-on estates to towns like Stortford and infilling villages would not be a sensible option.

Cllr Haysey said: “We cannot carry on doing that.”

She suggested a regional approach to completely new villages and towns was more feasible.

Hertfordshire alone has proposed more than 95,000 new homes as part of the current district plan process.

Cllr Haysey predicted: “That number is not going to be any less next time.”

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